Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
A Canadian’s Perspective on the Anthem
While Donald Trump, Roger Goodell, and LeBron James bicker about the US national anthem, let me give you a Canadian conservative’s take on “The Star Spangled Banner.”
On September 11, 2001, I was working in Ottawa as Communications Director to the then Leader of the Opposition. The comms shop had a bank of TVs going that morning and when the first plane hit, we all gathered around. When the second plane came into view, heading for the towers, we all knew what it was and we also knew that there would be a taxing few days ahead as we prepared for the crush of media demands for comment, analysis, reaction, and interviews as well as the Parliamentary demands for questions, answers, motions, and statements.
With typical Canadian caution, the Liberal government of the day moved slowly to react and offer condolences and support to our American neighbours. We in the Opposition waited until the Prime Minister spoke before issuing our statements. In the days and weeks that followed, the Liberals focused on the need to identify and address “root causes” while we conservatives immediately understood that it was radical Islam and jihadist hatred behind everything.
After a few days, the government organized a memorial ceremony of sorts on Parliament Hill, with bands, speeches, flags, and the trappings of a solemn occasion. There was no mention of God, of course, since that would offend some people and Canadians, especially when the Liberals are in power, would never want to do that.
Towards the end of the event, we sang “O Canada!” It was a typical hockey rink style rendition, with the several thousand people in the audience mumbling along in more or less unity. And then, the person at the mike sang, “O say, can you see…” and Parliament Hill was transformed.
Every person there sang. Every word. With meaning and emotion. It was electrifying. Thousands of Canadians singing the American national anthem, with meaning, understanding, sympathy and fervour.
Some time later, driving home in the dusk, the magnitude of it all hit me. Sobbing openly, I pulled to the side of the road until my eyes dried up a bit and I could actually see where I was going. Again that evening, when I called my wife to tell her about what had happened (she was still back home in Edmonton) I cried again. And every time I heard the anthem for months afterwards I choked up.
Even today, more than a decade and a half on, when a particularly good rendition starts a football game, or a stock car race on TV, I struggle to maintain a stoic, calm, Canadian exterior. I sometimes turn the sound off so I can avoid another crying jag.
Your anthem is stirring. It reflects the greatness of the USA, inspired during times of peril. It recalls the struggles and sacrifice that gave birth to America. It should be sung with gratitude, emotion and reflection. You are not a perfect nation, but you have a perfect national anthem.Published in General
Music and emotion. It’s a powerful combination.
Something very similar happened to me. The day after the attacks, I was out in my car by myself, and our local classical music station played Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture.” That’s what the Boston Pops plays every Fourth of July while the fireworks go off over the Charles River. At first I opened all of my car windows and turned the radio up full blast. Then it all hit me, and I had to pull over until I stopped sobbing.
Our national anthems move us in ways that little else can.
It depends on the anthem. The Star-Spangled Banner and La Marseillaise are really good anthems, because they’re about something concrete and relatable. The SSB is about a single soldier looking for hope during a specific battle. La Marseillaise is a call to the people to fight against tyranny. These anthems tell stories.
Not all anthems stir the spirits in this way. God Save The Queen is a pledge of allegiance to a rich person. O Canada is a sappy ode to geography, with word salad lyrics (in both official languages). I’m convinced most Canuckistanis sing it phonetically. Singing these anthems is a chore and/or a duty, rather than a privilege.
(I’m one of those cranky Tories who prefers The Maple Leaf Forever. The lyrics are a history lesson.)
I agree with that. I’ve heard so many debates over the years that we should change it to a song more easily sung.
But you’re right. It’s the story behind our anthem that makes it so powerful.
I have never like Start Spangled Banner much. I prefer God Bless America. However, in our country there are way too many people who hate America and act out their hatred. I would love to ship them all out to Afghanistan for a while, then ask them if they still hate America.
God Bless America has the same problems that O Canada and God Save The Queen have. It’s both an ode to geography and a pledge of allegiance.
The SSB, by contrast, is a story that teaches a lesson and stirs the soul. It’s a story about hope, rather than a lecture about loyalty.
A really good anthem is about more than just loyalty to a patch of real estate.
One of the things I like about La Marseillaise is how the song still works even if you remove all references to “The Fatherland” and “Frenchmen”. It’s about ideas rather than real estate.
Upon reflection, the thing I really like about the Star-Spangled Banner is that it’s the only national anthem I know of that isn’t a lecture.
Most anthems are either a loyalty oath, or a statement of principles, or a prayer, or worst of all a sappy ode to real estate. Basically, they are virtually all ham-fisted propaganda, really.
The Star Spangled Banner avoids this. It’s not a lecture for you to love America. It’s not a forced loyalty oath. It’s not a recitation of principles that you have to abide by to quality as an American.
It’s, instead, a story about a soldier during a battle whose faith and hope is strengthened by the sight of the flag, and that soldier’s wish that future generations will continue to benefit from that flag. But it doesn’t lecture about what those benefits actually are.
America means different things to different people (which is sorta the whole point of the American democratic experiment) and the anthem reflects that.
(Imagine if Canada had made In Flanders Fields the national anthem…)
I really dislike that the EU has appropriated Beethoven’s “An die Freude” because I really like Schiller’s words and Beethoven’s tune and I don’t care at all for the EU. The words also tell a story of unity and happiness.
@misthiocracy Totally agree about Star Spangled Banner and le Marseillaise. And I much prefer “Rule Brittania” to “God Save the Queen/King”.
I love the poem. Had to memorize it for school back in 4th grade or something. But is there a song to go with it?
No, but then the SSB also started off as a poem without music (which is why it’s so awkward to sing).
O Canada was an instrumental first, and the words came later first in French and later in English. This helps explain why the lyrics are such pablum. It was an exercise in “writing by committee”.
But hey, at least it’s easy to sing.
I very much appreciate that especially when I consider what my countrymen did at York.
Australia really missed the mark when they failed to make Waltzing Matilda their national anthem (it came in second in the referendum, getting 28% of the vote).
Imagine a national anthem about choosing death rather than being apprehended by police. It would be the Thelma & Louise of national anthems!
I love our anthem. I know we seem to overplay it in the eyes of, particularly, Europeans, but I don’t care.
Almost all the Australians I met in my years living there admitted to me that they preferred our anthem to their own, and most knew the lyrics to The Star Spangled Banner better than they knew Advance Australia Fair. I found that last bit odd, and more than a little sad.
And when I hear God Save the Queen, the only lyrics in my head are those of My Country, ‘Tis of Thee. ;)
“A National Party senator, Sandy Macdonald, said in 2001 that “Advance Australia Fair” is so boring that the nation risks singing itself to sleep.” – Wikipedia
Maybe they wouldn’t need the stupid Eurovision contest if they had better anthems.
Don’t worry about it. We balanced the ledger.
If we had to change it, I’d go with The Battle Hymn of the Republic.
Either that or On, Wisconsin.
When I was in Iceland a couple of weeks ago, there was a betting pool in the office I was visiting, on what country was going to win the Eurovision Song contest. So apparently people do care about it. I never knew. I sort of figured after Abba there wasn’t much point.
Outstanding post. Thank you. Reminded me of this:
Indeed, why continue after achieving perfection?
It’s not quite that bad. It does have the word “girt”, which is surely unique among anthems.
You asked for it.
They blew it when they got rid of Waltzing Matilda.
Well, Waltzing Matilda is about a criminal committing a criminal act, so it’s not surprising the Aussies didn’t want to make that their national anthem.
The United Kingdom would do well to use Rule Britannia.
When Britain first, at Heaven’s commandArose from out the azure main;This was the charter of the land,And guardian angels sang this strain:
I like how Russia simply reworked the Soviet Union anthem to be theirs. It sure beats God Save the Tsar.
Alleged criminal. He was camping on public land, and a sheep shows up so he eats it. Did the sheep have any branding or tags on it?!
Most Americans don’t even know there are other verses to the Anthem. I would like to see them used at least occasionally and especially the last verse:
Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heaven-rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
Powerful words, great sentiment. And those who protest our imperfections would do well to spend a little time contemplating that line about freemen and just how it applies to their situation especially as compared to that of 99% of men past and present.
I do fully support their right to protest and, yes, even their right to act like idiots in other ways but I think if Colin’s protest had been handled properly there would be no problem with this issue today. How would that have been you ask? Ignore him. Just ignore him and all other such idiocy. That’s how to keep it from gaining traction. And I include the media in that, they have a duty to ignore idiots. They fail in this because they are only interested in ratings, not news that matters. One big reason I watch and listen to “news” sparingly.
Personally I never waste any time paying attention to fools or those acting foolishly, I have enough to keep me busy without that.
As a Ukrainian, I’ve always found the anthem depressing. While a stirring melody, the title Ще не вмерли України literally translates as
“Ukraine is not dead yet“. Not exactly a rousing theme…
What a beautiful moment.